Monday, December 31, 2012

Prayer for the New Year

I came across this prayer this morning and thought it might be a good prayer for the New Year:

O Adonai, O Ruler of Israel, thou that guidest Joseph like a flock, O Emmanuel, O Sapientia, I give myself to thee. I trust thee wholly. Thou are wiser than I - more loving to me than I to myself. Deign to fulfill thy high purposes in me whatever they be - work in and through me. I am born to serve thee, to be thine, to be thy instrument. I ask not to see - I ask not to know - I ask simply to be used. Amen.

- Blessed John Henry Newman
Heart to Heart: A Cardinal Newman Prayerbook (Christian Classics)

Take the 90 Day Bible Reading Challenge!

Is part of your plans for the new year to spend more time with Scripture? Starting January 1st, Ascension Press is offering a free 90-day bible reading plan through their website http://thecatholicyearoffaith.com/.

Each day, they will send an email reminder with a carefully chosen selection of Scripture, a brief commentary and a key question for reflection. This step-by-step plan will bring the reader through 14 of the Bible’s narrative books that tell the whole story of Salvation from beginning to end.

Here's a link to the welcome page:
http://thecatholicyearoffaith.com/90-day-bible-reading-challenge/

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book Review: My Sisters the Saints

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir


by Colleen Carroll Campbell
New York: Image Books, 2012



“Is this all there is?” Colleen Carroll Campbell found herself asking that universal question midway through college.  Every generation needs to discover the role of faith in their lives and to seek answers to the hard questions such as the meaning of life and the role of suffering. While human nature may remain fairly consistent, new realities and cultural influences require new synthesis. With My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir, Campbell looks to the wisdom of the saints to help light the way for young and early-middle-aged women today.

Campbell, just shy of forty, has lived a life most of us can only dream of. She worked as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, met Pope Benedict XVI, is a successful columnist, television personality and book writer, has traveled the world and married a doctor. Yet, she has also experienced great pain as she struggled with being a woman in the modern-era. Many of her difficulties are ones that most women can relate to, such as trying to navigate college life, attempting to balance a personal and professional life, and determining when to get married and have children. Her most painful struggles are less common – facing her father’s twelve-year descent into dementia and her own diagnosis of infertility with the accompanying challenge of seeking treatment in keeping with Church teaching– but all can appreciate her pain. While the details may change, every life has its share of sorrow. Every person asks questions that lack easy answers. 

Campbell shares fifteen years of her life with profound honesty. She shares her faults and failings, joys and sorrows. She was blessed with parents of great faith who proved to be a tremendous influence in her life. Their example looms large in this book. They introduced her to many of the saints who would become her companions on her spiritual journey and her quest to follow God. At various times, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Faustina, Blessed Mother Teresa, St. Edith Stein, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, each speak most loudly to her. Campbell deftly weaves brief biographies of each of these saints into her narrative while sharing what she found to be their most important lessons in living. 

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir is for every Catholic woman who has ever struggled with what it means to be a modern Catholic woman. Campbell is a fellow imperfect woman doing her best to walk in God’s path.  One cannot help but be touched by Campbell’s honesty and the way God has worked in her life. The lessons that she learned from the saints are lessons that each one of us can also learn from. Her beautiful story has much to offer. 


Friday, December 28, 2012

Why the Word "Hot" Has to Go

I read Kathleen Parker's latest column in my local newspaper this morning and she definitely hit a nerve. She was writing about some of her personal pet peeves. And while her discussion of young people's inability to make a statement (as opposed to a question) left me laughing: “So, I ran into Jeff? And he was, like, wow, you cut your hair? And I was, like, I know, right?, her discussion of the word "hot" got my blood pressure up because I completely agree and I bristle every time I hear someone refer to someone of the opposite sex as "hot."

Parker writes: 
Can we please shelve this awful word as used by adults to refer to others? What happened to “attractive” or “fascinating”? If you’re 18 or younger, I suppose one can be forgiven for recognizing a person of interest in terms of hotness, but nothing is less attractive than adult men and women appraising others as “hot” (or not) at a certain age, which should be about the time one is old enough to vote. 

Hotness, as I understand it, essentially refers to another’s worthiness to bed. This is not, in the world I prefer to live in, subject matter for dinner conversation. 

While I have heard some women refer to a man as "hot," I have found that this is mainly a male phenomenon. I will give these men the benefit of the doubt. I don't think that they are trying to channel their inner neanderthal. Rather, they see it as meaning "attractive." At least that is what I am hoping. I know men are visual creatures and their attention is easily captured by a pretty face and/or good figure. God made them this way to make sure the species continued.

Yet I, and I think most women, want to be considered attractive for more than our physical appearance and a man's lust for us. So, men, take note - being called "hot" is insulting - it makes us nothing more than a sex object. If you are going to refer to us as "hot," it had better be because it is the middle of a heat wave in summer. Then the statement, "Wow, you look really hot" as sweat is dripping down our backs might be appropriate.

Other than that, please remove the word "hot" as a descriptive word about women from your vocabulary. If you feel the need to comment on a woman's physical appearance, describe her as "beautiful" or "attractive" or "someone I'd like to get to know better." Please see us as more than just an object of your lust and treat us with the respect we deserve.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

5 Ways to Keep the Christmas Spirit Alive in Your Heart

This week of the year kills me - every year. My depression seems to be at its yearly peak, I'm suffering from post-holiday malaise, I get another year older (my birthday is December 26th) and the combination of that and the end of the calendar year compels me to look at my life and want to throw in the towel (I know that isn't actually an option).

Honestly, I just try to get through it. I know that the light will come at the other end of the tunnel (usually sometime in March when the days start to become springlike). In the meantime, I try to keep busy, go about my daily routine, eat vast amounts of chocolate and cope and function as best I can.

Lisa Hendey offers a better way of surviving this week in her article: Five Ways to Keep Christmas Spirit Alive in Your Heart. I especially like her idea of "being of service." I always find that helping someone else helps me feel better, no matter how dark the day may seem.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

"The Word Was Made Flesh and Dwelt Among Us"

Wishing all of you a very Blessed Christmas!



(The image was found at http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/299816107#/d4vg79q)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas and the Gift of the Eucharist

This is an excerpt from Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell's column in The Catholic Mirror for December 2012.

Emmanuel - God is with us - happens every day at every Mass. The Son of God, the son of Mary, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word made flesh, the one born in Bethlehem, the child who grew up in Nazareth, the man who proclaimed the Good News throughout Galilee and Judea, the Savior who died in Jerusalem and rose from the dead to live eternally at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ is with me - and you - every time we receive Communion. He is as real in the Eucharist as he was at the Nativity, body and blood, soul and divinity.

If Christmas is meaningful because Jesus came once for all in Bethlehem, how much more meaningful is it that Jesus continues to come to each one who receives Communion? We might say that Emmanuel - God is with us - happened not simply that first Christmas, but rather God yearns to be with us constantly through His ongoing gift of Himself in the Eucharist.

You've heard of the gift that keeps on giving. What more so than God's gift of Himself to us? Not simply at Christmas, but at every Mass.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Survival Guide to the Holidays

I'm a firm believer that a little kindness, a lot of tongue-biting, and low expectations can go a long way in surviving family get-togethers for the holidays. Every family has its share of conflict and some of that always comes to the surface, even during what are supposed to be happy occasions.

Leslie Scanlon offers some great advice in this article from U.S. Catholic: Twas the Fight Before Christmas

May all your Christmas get-togethers be as peaceful and loving as possible!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Review: The Time-Keeper

The Time Keeper
by Mitch Albom
New York: Hyperion, 2012

Mitch Albom, author of the bestselling "Tuesdays with Morrie" and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" returns with a new novel about a subject that frequently dominates our lives: time.

Of all the creatures on earth, "man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out."

Album tells the story of three childhood friends growing up thousands of years ago. Dor and Alli marry and have children. Their friend Nim becomes king. Dor becomes the first man ever interested in time. He learns to count the hours and creates the first sundial and water clock. Dor's family is always poor because no one values his inventions, but Nim has become hugely powerful. He wants to challenge the gods and sets out to build the Tower of Babel. Dor wants no part of it and as a result, he and Alli are exiled.

When Alli becomes sick and is near death, Dor is willing to do anything to save her. He decides to climb the Tower of Babel, reach heaven, and stop time. For this, God punished him by imprisoning him in a cave where he is sentenced to "listen to the misery counting the moments creates." He becomes the mythical Father Time.

In our own era, Sarah Lemon is a tortured high school student in love with a boy who doesn't share her feelings and publicly humiliates her. Victor Delamonte is a rich man searching to extend his life indefinitely. When Father Time is released from his sentence, he is instructed to "find two souls on earth, one who wants too much time and one who wants too little. Teach them what you have learned." In teaching them, he also teaches us.

"The Time Keeper" is a modern-day fable. Dor, Sarah and Victor are all flawed characters dealing with the complexities and pains of life. Readers will identify with them. "The Time-Keeper" is a quick read that invites readers to think about that most precious of gifts: the gift of time.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Knights of Middle Earth

With The Hobbit now in theaters, I thought those of you who are fans might enjoy this article on some of the Christian themes interwoven in J. R. R. Tolkein's classic.

The spirit of Tolkien's hugely successful fantasy novels is deeply Christian.  Born in 1892, the author was a devout Catholic who grew up under the influence of Blessed John Henry Newman's Oratory in Birmingham, England.  All through his busy life as an Oxford professor and popular writer, he tried to attend Mass every day.  His eldest son even became a Catholic priest.  The stories that Tolkien wrote were more than entertainment; they were written to express a profound Christian wisdom.
In a letter Tolkien drafted to the manager of the Newman Bookshop in 1954, but never sent because it sounded too self-important (Letter 153 in the published collection), he admitted that his aim in writing the stories was "the elucidation of truth, and the encouragement of good morals in this real world, by the ancient device of exemplifying them in unfamiliar embodiments, that may tend to 'bring them home.'"  In another letter to a Jesuit friend in 1953, he explained that while he had consciously "absorbed" the religious element "into the story and the symbolism" (because he had no intention of making religious propaganda), The Lord of the Rings remains "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work."

Please read the full article here: The Knights of Middle Earth

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: The 13th Day of Christmas

The 13th Day of Christmas
by Jason F. Wright
Stevens Point, WI: Worzalla Publishing Co., 2012

December 26th is one of the saddest days of the year. Everyone is worn out from Christmas, half the new toys are already broken, children are complaining that they are bored, some Christmas trees have been tossed to the curb, and all the "most-wanted" items a few days earlier are now marked for fifty-percent off.

With his new novel, "The 13th Day of Christmas," Jason F. Wright is working to change that. He tells the story of an unlikely friendship between an elderly widow, Marva, whose much-loved husband and son both died over thirty years ago, and a nine-year old girl, Charlee, whose family has fallen on some hard times. Marva invites Charlee over to her home to help decorate for Christmas and shows her a very special Advent calendar. Unlike most such calendars which end at Christmas, this one includes a door for December 26th, the so-called "13th Day of Christmas."

Purists will point out that the twelve days of Christmas are from December 25th to the feast of Epiphany on January 6th. However, for the purposes of this story and the point that Wright is trying to make, this accounting of the days as leading up to Christmas works.

When Charlee becomes critically ill and lands in the hospital on a long-term basis, she begins to receive letters from the "traveling elves," sharing stories of the twelve days of Christmas and giving her some unusual gifts, but it is the secret of the 13th Day of Christmas that holds the true magic and the power to change lives.

This is a heartwarming story, easy to read, with an important message. Even if you don't get to read it until after Christmas, it is worth adding to your reading list.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why Fear is Not the Answer

I wasn't going to write about Friday's sad events, instead simply choosing to pray. My heart has been heavy, and I knew others would write about it with more eloquence. My words and thoughts weren't necessarily needed. But then, I was drawn into the conversation and realized that there was indeed something I needed to say.
One of my volunteer positions at my parish is to process CORI (criminal background check) paperwork for anyone who volunteers with children. I also have to provide them with "Safe Environment" training - basically, recognizing the signs of child abuse and how to report such abuse. I had one of these meetings scheduled for Saturday morning.
As we were wrapping up, the older woman I was meeting with, who I have known as an acquaintance for many years, asked me, "You homeschool your children, right?" I affirmed that I did. She then said that her daughter was so upset about the school shooting that she was considering homeschooling her children, who are not yet school aged. I simply nodded politely and said that it wasn't for everyone, but homeschooling had worked out well for us.
On a related note, later that day as I scanned Facebook, I saw several parents post how scared they were to bring their children to school on Monday. 
I do understand this fear and I am happy to support anyone who is considering homeschooling, but the more I thought about it over the course of the weekend, the more I realized that a gut reaction to fear and withdraw from the world is not the answer. And, while those unfamiliar with us might think otherwise, homeschoolers are just as much a part of the world as everyone else. We don't live an isolated existence.  Nor would we want to.

Yes, there is violence in the world. No matter how we might try, we cannot protect ourselves or our children from every evil that is out there.  We can take reasonable precautions (for example, I'm not inclined to go walking alone in my city neighborhood at night, nor would I allow my children to do so), but to live in fear means that the violence has won.

Our priest addressed the topic at the Children's Mass this morning, asking the children what lessons they should learn from these tragic events. Sadly, some of the answers were "to trust no one." Is that really the message we want our children to take away from this? Father corrected them, and said that, "No, that the lesson was that we needed to bring good into the world." He went on to say that there were far more good people in the world than evil people and we couldn't let evil win.

This is so true. The devil won a battle on Friday, but he did not, and will not, win the war. God is in charge. Good will prevail. We need to be on that side. If we give into fear and live our lives in isolation in order to avoid any possible instance of violence, then we have surrendered our trust in God and allowed evil to win.

Christmas is about the birth of Christ, the light of the world coming into the darkness. As Christians we are called to radiate that light as much as possible. Right now, the world seems very dark. It needs that light more than ever. Let us be that light.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Prayers for Those Affected by Today's Tragedy

Please join me in saying an "Our Father" for all those affected by the tragedy in CT today.

Our Father,
Who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation.

Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Renewing Your Spiritual Strength

This was the Bible Quote and Reflection from O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath for today.

"They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles' wings;
They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint." - Isaiah 40:31

So often, the busyness of the holiday season leaves us too weary and overwhelmed. How can you renew your spiritual strength this Advent? What will help your spirit soar?
 


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Catholic Baby Name Book is Now Available for Pre-Order!

My New Book is now available for Pre-order! And I am not above begging. Please, please, please buy a copy!

Who would appreciate this book?

Anyone expecting a baby.
Writers looking for good name ideas for their characters.
Confirmation candidates searching for a Confirmation saint name.
People interested in name meanings.
People interested in patron saints (this book features the bios of over 3000 of them!)

Here is the link on Amazon: The Catholic Baby Name Book and the link on Barnes and Noble: The Catholic Baby Name Book 




Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: Proof of Heaven

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
by Eben Alexander, M.D.
NY: Simon and Schuster, 2012

Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who has practiced at such esteemed locations as the Brigham and Women's and Children's and Harvard Medical School, never believed in near-death experiences (NDE's) until he had one.

On November 10, 2008, at the age of fifty-four, he contracted a case of E. Coli bacterial meningitis no one could explain the cause of. His case was the first of its kind in recorded medical history. As a result of his illness, he spent seven days in a coma with his neocortex (the part of the brain that makes us human) "shut down." Even with the best medical care available, by the end of the week just about everyone had given up hope of any sort of recovery.

Most NDE's take place while the neocortex is still functioning. But, in his case, "the neocortex was out of the picture. [He] was encountering the reality of a world of consciousness that existed completely free of the limitations of [his] physical brain.

What Dr. Alexander experienced on the other side makes for compelling reading, although he emphasizes the difficulty of even trying to put it into human words. He states that trying to describe it is "like trying to write a novel with only half the alphabet." But he is adamant that "the place [he] went was real. Real in a way that makes the life we are living here and now completely dreamlike by comparison."

He describes beings that we would most likely refer to as angels as follows: "The joy of these creatures, as they soared along, was such that they had to make this noise -- that if the joy didn't come out of them this way then they would simply not otherwise be able to contain it. The sound was palpable and almost material, like a rain that you can feel on your skin but that doesn't get you wet.

"Seeing and hearing were not separate in this place where I now was. I could hear the visual beauty of the silvery bodies of those scintillating beings above, and I could see the surging, joyful perfection of what they sang."

He describes the ever-present feeling of unconditional love, that "none of us are ever unloved. Each and every one of us is deeply known and cared for by a Creator who cherishes us beyond any ability we have to comprehend."

The fact that Dr. Alexander fully recovered from his illness with no loss of brain function is a medical miracle. Prior to this experience, he had never examined the testimony of those who had experienced NDE's at all, instead dismissing the phenomena as simply the neocortex at work. In true scientific fashion, he wrote down his own experience on the other side before he began to delve into the literature already out there. He was amazed by what he found. He began to feel that it was his mission as a neuroscientist to help convince other doctors that this phenomena is real.

Dr. Alexander writes, "I simply had to take seriously the possibility that it really and truly had happened for a reason. That only made me feel a greater sense of responsibility to tell my story right."

While Dr. Alexander, an Episcopalian, does touch on religion and emphasizes the love of God and the power of prayer, this is not primarily a religious book. Rather, it is a scientific one, designed to convince those who dismiss belief in an afterlife on scientific grounds. As a result, it does include quite a bit of scientific explanation. If that does not interest the reader, those sections can be skimmed without any loss of meaning in the book.

My only caveat is that Dr. Alexander now seems to be getting into some meditative techniques that would be discouraged by the Catholic Church in order to replicate the experience. Truly, however, that is not a major topic in the book. Simply be aware of it when you come to that brief section.

"Proof of Heaven" is a must-read for anyone who doubts that there is an afterlife or for anyone interested in what life on the other side might be like.





Sunday, December 09, 2012

Who Do We Need to Make Room for in Our Inns?



Our pastor shared this story at Mass on Sunday:

As many parishes do at Christmas time, a parish in New York was having a pageant acting out the Nativity story. A little boy named Tom was taking part. He was mentally disabled, but was very excited to be in the pageant. He was playing an innkeeper and practiced his line over and over again until he had it down perfectly, “There is no room in the inn.” 

The big night came and he was ready. When Mary and Joseph came up to him, he delivered his line just as he had practiced. Everything was going as planned, until the Holy Couple walked away from him sadly, at which point he called after them, “Wait! You can stay at my house.”

That little boy obviously had the spirit of hospitality alive and well within him. If he had been back in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, our Christmas story might have had a slightly different setting. But what about us, living today? Do we have that spirit of hospitality?

For some, it comes easily. Their door is always open. There is always enough food and one more is always welcome at the table. They have a special gift for making everyone feel welcome. I love those people and am so thankful for those that I know. 

As an introvert, I’ve always struggled with hospitality. Quite honestly, people frequently stress me out, so inviting people into my home isn’t that easy. But as is often the case with our weaknesses, God has provided me with plenty of opportunities to practice it. And, I’m happy to report, I’m getting better. If only because it is such a weakness of mine, I make a concerted effort to be welcoming to anyone who wants to come to my home. 

Sometimes it is easier to be open and welcoming with strangers, or those individuals we see rarely, than it is with family members. Sometimes, the people we need to be most hospitable with are the people who are closest to us. This can include those who live in our very own homes. This time of year, we are called in a special way to be hospitable, to open the doors of our homes and our hearts. We are called to make room. Will we welcome Jesus, disguised as members of our own families, into our own inns?